Music before birth: what does the baby hear?

The image lasts only a few seconds, but it surprises: one video shows a baby in the womb, eyes closed, nestled in the darkness of its secure shell. We hear, like him, by the way, the first sentence of The little night music by Mozart. How does he react? He sings ! We see very clearly how he makes the movements of the mouth and tongue as if making sounds.

At the origin of this filmed sequence, a 2014 Marques Institute study in Barcelona on the influence of music on embryonic development. It is surprising in several ways: first, we are seeing a fetus respond to music with non-specific movements for the first time, and the first time we are making it listen to music through the vagina (IVM) using a device , developed by Institut Marques for the purpose of this study and named babyPod.

“Previous studies in which the speakers were placed on the mother’s abdomen did not elicit a significant response from the baby, explains Dr. Marisa López-Teijón, one of the authors of the study. The researchers therefore developed an intravaginal device connected to an external speaker to let the baby hear the sound the way we hear it, loud enough without distortion or distortion. Twenty-four fetuses younger than 16 weeks and 82 fetuses older than 16 weeks participated in the study and were randomly exposed to IVM through the BabbyPod, intravaginal sound-like vibrations, and the propagation of music through speakers placed on the abdomen.

And the conclusion is without appeal. While playing music through the abdomen or sounds through the vagina did not elicit a response in the fetus regardless of its gestational age, the researchers observed “Mouth and tongue movements in fetuses from 16 weeks gestation, the frequency of which increased proportionally to the age of the fetus. “But these are very rare movements for a resting fetus, which are very clearly related to hearing,” the researcher specifies. ” With this study, we also show that the only way for the fetus to hear music while we are listening to it is by emitting it from the mother’s vagina. When we radiate music from the outside through the abdomen, the fetus does not perceive it in the same way. »

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What does the baby hear in the womb?

The inner ear of the fetus completes its formation by the 16th week of pregnancy. This study is the first to show that the fetus begins to hear sounds at the same time as it develops, explains Marisa López-Teijón. But what exactly does he mean? “In the womb, the fetus hears sounds from the mother’s body: heartbeats, breathing and bowel sounds. He also picks up the sounds of his mother walking or talking, in addition to the sounds from outside. says the researcher.

However, the fetus is in a more or less soundproof environment: the maternal organs and abdominal wall isolate it from sounds. The sound intensity that reaches the fetus is about 30 dB, which is equivalent to a whisper, the researcher concludes. ” It’s like the fetus is surrounded by pillows, or when you hear someone talking in the next room, and even if you do hear, the distortion doesn’t allow you to understand exactly what’s being said. Since most sounds are very repetitive, he gets used to them and doesn’t react to them. They don’t prevent him from sleeping. Therefore, we can say that the sound environment of the womb is like the background noise of a forest. »

But then what about the music? By placing headphones on the pregnant woman’s stomach, the researchers played music at an average volume of around 100 dB, which is equivalent to the volume of an ambulance siren, music in a nightclub or the sound of a train. “No changes in fetal facial expressions were observed during this part of the study,” replies the researcher.

Also read:
Why Are Lullabies So Beneficial For Babies?

Is all music the same?

If in the first experience the babies listened to the pleasant Partita in A minor for flute BWV 1013 by Bach*,* In the following steps, the researchers, in collaboration with musicologists, tested a varied playlist that included all musical genres.

According to their conclusions, the predominant aesthetic is classical music, which tops the list The little night music by Mozart. Also included are the Fit from Bach, the Sonata for two pianos in D major by Mozart KV 448 and Pierre and the wolf by Prokofiev. Traditional music, like African drums or the Flamenco singing Spanish, have also achieved convincing results. The genre that babies liked the least was pop or rock music, with the only exceptions Bohemian Rhapsody from Queens and YMCA by villagers. How do you explain it?

“We don’t know why different types of music have more or less an effect on the fetus. We have observed more than 1000 patients but we do not know if it is the rhythm or the melody that stimulates the baby more. There are fragments where there are more answers, for example for the cante jondo, we had 100% answers. It is perhaps the music that is heard the most across generations,” comments Marisa Dr. López-Teijón.

Why does music make the fetus sing?

The communication is being prepared in utero. Music induces a response to vocal movements because it activates brain circuits that stimulate language and communication, explains Marisa López-Teijón. ” We know that babies vocalize spontaneously in response to the sounds they hear and begin to explore their vocal range. This is the phase before speaking. In the presence of dissonant sounds or noises, the circuits of the neurons are not activated. Singing or talking to a child stimulates language and stimulates the brain circuits involved in communication. When hearing the music, the fetus responds with vocal movements, one step ahead of singing and speaking. »

Music could be one of the stimuli that triggers the attachment behaviors that the baby is programmed for and that are essential for its survival, analyzes Emmanuel Bigand, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Dijon.

“What the baby is looking for are signs of humanity. We give birth to very fragile babies who should normally stay in the womb for even three months longer. The implication is that caring for these babies is essential to the survival of the human species. And since there is no room for error, we have developed strategies for newborn care that are shared by all cultures, and among these strategies music plays a paramount role, explains the researcher. This explains the presence of lullabies and nursery rhymes in all cultures of the world, sharing common characteristics:

“Music is believed to play a role in the emotional caregiving of the baby. Because it’s not just about giving him food and drink, protecting him from bad weather and wild beasts so that he grows. All his development energy must be positively invested in his development.ent. When the baby is faced with stressful situations, with fear, with situations that he cannot cope with because his brain is under construction, all of these will hinder the development of the baby’s brain and body. Therefore, all psychological strategies that help improve the baby’s development have an adaptive value. And emotional regulation is fundamental. Because in order for the baby’s brain to develop well, the baby needs to live in an environment that is as calm and peaceful as it is. And so music contributes to emotion regulation, and that is its biological function in the revolutionary sense of the word.” concludes the researcher.

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